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How do you show Postive and Negative Characters?; In your story- how do you show who to like and who to hate?
Topic Started: Jan 17 2012, 01:09 AM (954 Views)
Fjord Mustang
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I Don't Really Look Like This. Usually.

And another writing question!

How do you indicate in your fanfiction positive or negative characters? This can mean characters who are intended to be heroes and villains but also characters who are seen as likeable or un- likeable, regardless of their alignment as heroic or villainous.

I don't have an education in creative writing, so most of my experience is based on courses for writing for tourism brochures and press releases. There we need to focus on the message we want to give our readers so we are reaching the people most likely to be interested in visiting Scandinavia and Northern Europe. There are two approaches we can use, depending on our market.

So, instead of using writing jargon, I have to base it on my own work experience jargon.

When you write your characters who are intended to be likeable or un- likeable, what approach do you use:

a) Appeal- Here a writer wants to present a clear cue of how people should view characters. So it is important to use specific nouns, verbs, adjectives, non verbal behavior that tells the reader how he or she should view the character. The choice of words used reflect an appeal that gives a positive or negative impression of the character. Here there are helpful cues that aid the reader in knowing who is meant to be a positive or negative character. On the downside, there is more limited opportunity for readers to put their own insights into characters for future dialogues about stories.

b) Information focus- Here the focus is on taking an observor perspective and putting out facts and data and letting the reader come to the conclusion on his/her own. Here the focus is on character behavior and dialogue that show that character's viewpoint and then stepping back and letting the reader decide if the character is positive or negative. (There also mybe impressions that come from other characters as well in their behavior and dialogue. On the downside, the reader may or may not come to the conclusion intended, which is a risk, but still the reader is left to decide as a point of discussion in story forums.

Both have their pluses and minuses.

So, what approach do you favor?

Edited by Fjord Mustang, Jan 17 2012, 01:14 AM.
"And now each night, I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when the stars won't come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave."
— Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones)

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Night Fury
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Dragons before Vikings

It's easier to simply portray a character appealing or unappealing, so that approach tends to be used a lot. It works especially well for children's literature because it doesn't overburden the reader. J.K. Rowling is one example of an author who uses this approach.

For adult fiction though, I think the second option is far better. A talented writer should be persuasive by giving a detailed portrait of the character. I feel patronized when an author goes to great lengths to make a character seem unappealing. It's like the author can't trust me to make up my own mind.

HTTYD ending: "While other places have ponies or parrots... we have dragons."
HTTYD 2 ending: "Oh sure, they have armies and they have armadas. But we... we have… OUR DRAGONS."
HTTYD 3 ending: "... Oh, shit."

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chofrog09
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Small Home Repair Viking
Going by those descriptions, I would say I prefer #2, information focus.

I don't want to tell readers how they should view a character. Though riskier and more difficult, I prefer to present as much information and introspection as possible to lead readers to connect and understand a characters actions and decisions. If readers can voluntarily empathize with a character, then I think it better connects them to the story.

I'll present a character a certain way, but I leave their hero/villain ambiguous and let the reader decide.
Edited by chofrog09, Jan 17 2012, 12:09 PM.
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Alkanphel
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Gronckle
That's quite difficult to answer actually in one or two sentences.

Lets start with unlikable/villain.

I guess it depends on just where on the scale of villainy the character is. Characterization differs based on wether the character is a grunt, villain of the week, dragon to the big bad or THE Big Bad.

Also it matters if you want the character to be unlikable and evil, or simply evil. All these character types have to be approached differently because each has a different impact on the story and reader. An elaborate backstory and characterization would not be appropriate for say Enemy viking B.

Also evil is purely a matter of perspective. Is the character evil because he opposes the protagonist for political or personal reasons? Or is he evil because hes the evil lord devil satan bad guy?

Moving on to unlikable/good guy.

Again importance of said character to story is important in considering how to write said unlike-ability. And once that is established determine why said character is unlikeable. Again is he opposing the protagonist or simply possessed of a disagreeable personality.

My guess is once you've decided on all these factors it should be fairly simple on how to present said character. Or at least that is my two cents.
In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In death, sacrifice.
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AvannaK
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Agent of the Alterverse

I don't, and if I do it certainly isn't intentional. Sure I might use the 'appeal' option and let a reader believe for an arc or so that someone is obviously negative or positive, but then I like to switch things up.

I like having unlikable 'good guys' who reassure the readers with the occasional redeeming action. I also like the likable 'bad guys': the ones who do obviously bad things but are just so annoyingly endearing. I really have a hard time making any character consistently bad or good.

I also never completely plan for a character to be likable or unlikable. I plan for their actions, how they follow the plot, and their reasoning. That's probably the most important thing to me: reasoning (Why are they making these choices? Why are they coming to this conclusion?). That way there is no unanimous likable/unlikable character, it all has to come down to the reader. Some characters I find likable just don't resonate with the reader and visa versa.

I'm okay with readers not reaching the conclusion on base characters because I rarely come up with my own conclusions on who is positive or negative. Some readers can forgive a character indiscretions while others can't. I want the readers to disagree on who the 'good guys' are and who the 'bad guys' are, just like they do in fandoms. I think that's when characters have true depth.
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Backroads
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Proclaimer of Book Wisdom

I favor b, but I enjoy using a from time to time--usually in a manipulative fashion. I find it trite to say so-n-so is a goodie or badie in so simple of terms, but it's also fun to get someone thinking is bad or good when it's actually quite the opposite.
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Fjord Mustang
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I Don't Really Look Like This. Usually.

Backroads
Jan 18 2012, 05:51 PM
I favor b, but I enjoy using a from time to time--usually in a manipulative fashion. I find it trite to say so-n-so is a goodie or badie in so simple of terms, but it's also fun to get someone thinking is bad or good when it's actually quite the opposite.
That is actually a very admirable approach! I like it!
"And now each night, I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when the stars won't come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave."
— Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones)

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** Signature art designed by Gumdrop Ch4rms ***
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Whitefang333
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Nightmare
B option all the way. I try to play with concepts of "good" and "evil". I like bad guys with a logical drive behind them or people who fight for what they believe and happened to be on the other side of the barricade.

I cannot stand when the author is using A notoriously, trying to make me think as he/she wants to. I want to be the one to decide what I think about a character. Another observation from fanfiction.net, readers do not try to think and less than few bother to analyse and geet deeper to understand characters. I can't say I blame them as most of fanfiction doesn't make sense.
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Backroads
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Proclaimer of Book Wisdom

Whitefang333
Jan 19 2012, 12:46 AM


I cannot stand when the author is using A notoriously, trying to make me think as he/she wants to. I want to be the one to decide what I think about a character.
I'm fine with the author's right to create a character as good or evil and I'm aware that style and intention does factor in quite a bit--but it seems a good author would have a more subtle way of announcing a character as "good" or "evil".
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Eyes Wide Open
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Gronckle
I'm interested in finding out more about Alvin the Treacherous. Was he a character that was described as evil by C. Cowell or was there any development or reason for his enmity towards Hiccup?
I ask this because I find that J.K. Rowling and her depiction of Lord Voldemort filled the 'appeal' option.

I prefer 'information focus' as a way of allowing the writer to develop the character as he or she deems worthy. One note of interest. I find that serial killers tend to be persons who appear, for all intents and purposes, as a 'nice' person. It is only after several people disappear that suspicions arise.
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